When working in heavy construction and industrial environments, employees are exposed to many potential injuries, with some more common than others. It’s important to know how to recognize these injuries and treat them properly to both keep your employees healthy and reduce your recordable incidents.
Remote Medical International has provided on-site medical staff for industrial and challenging project sites for over 10 years. Through this experience, we’ve seen just about every occupational injury in the book. Below are the top three injuries we see on-site, and our recommendations for how to treat them.
1. Eye Injuries
Even though safety glasses are the number one way you can prevent eye injuries on a heavy construction worksite, sometimes debris and dust can get in a worker’s eye when they’re taking a break, switching tasks, or near another worker without protective eyewear. Eye injuries are the most common injuries seen on a worksite when workers are working with metal, tools, and even welding. The risk of exposure to harmful environments or substances is higher and can result in either a foreign object eye injury or the commonly seen “welders flash.”
“Companies are good at requiring eye protection, but the reality is these environments are dynamic and having the safety goggles off at the wrong second can cause you to get something in your eye,” says Remote Medical International Assistant Medical Director Richard Misiaszek.
Workers are commonly exposed to flying objects, harmful particle dust, or chemicals that can result in an eye injury. According to Misiaszek, workers will oftentimes rub their eye because of the irritation, which can cause a scratch on their cornea. In these cases, medical providers can do a combination of treatments that do not result in a recordable.
First, a provider will gently flush the eye to dislodge the foreign object. If needed, the provider will then take a Q-Tip to remove the object. Usually a worker will feel relieved after the foreign object is removed. However, if there is a scratch on the cornea, lubricating eye drops will heal the eye injury within 24-48 hours.
When welding, workers can often expose their eyes to high intensity heat or light, torch lighting, or brazing, which can cause pain to the cornea. Medical providers can either address the injury by giving Tylenol or Motrin and advise the worker to avoid bright lights for periods of time. Lubricating eye drops can also calm the inflammation, usually healing the worker within 24-48 hours. This treatment does not count as a recordable incident, and the worker usually does not have any work restrictions associated with this eye injury, allowing them to work at something else in their job description while they recover.
While the treatment for both of these injuries do not result in recordables, it is important to remember that some injuries can be more severe and need additional care.
“We use the best evidence to manage the injury, giving the patient the best treatment for recovery and get them back to work as soon as possible,” says Misiaszek.
It’s recommend to always wear your safety glasses and be aware of your surroundings to avoid these common eye injuries.
2. Hand Injuries
In a work environment that requires employees to work with their hands, hand injuries are common. From lifting heavy objects, to working with conveyor belts and quick moving rods, hands can get trapped in between objects or in larger pieces of mechanical equipment. Our providers see burns, crush injuries, and lacerations, anywhere from severe injuries to minor cuts and bruises. It is also common for workers to contract dermatitis or have an allergic reaction to a chemical they are working with on a project, and sometimes a worker can even be allergic to their gloves.
The severity of a crushed hand injury depends on the incident. If a piece of concrete crushes a hand from a couple of inches away, the injury is usually easily treatable. However, if the concrete crushes a hand from six feet away or more, the injury is more severe.
Medical providers examine a crushed hand with a physical exam to first determine the severity of the injury. If there is no concern for fracture, the medical provider will wrap, elevate, and ice the hand for treatment. Taking specific doses of Tylenol and Motrin over time will also reduce pain and aid in healing. Symptoms typically improve just 24-48 hours after the injury is treated.
If a worker has a deep cut near an artery or vein, it’s recommended they visit an ER to treat the wound. However, if there is a minor laceration, medical providers can treat the wound in a couple of steps. First, the provider will clean the wound and remove any foreign objects if present. Second, the provider can use steri strips to close the wound. According to Misiaszek, steri strips are just as effective as stitches, and sometimes even heal the wound more efficiently. Within 48 hours, the wound will start to heal. Using this treatment, the hand injury would not be considered a recordable.
“One of the benefits of the system we have is we see people everyday and are able to make sure their injuries are healing and they have a functional outcome,” said Misiaszek.
We recommend wearing gloves at all times when working with machinery and to be aware of what other people are working on in your environment to avoid hand injuries.
3. Back Injuries
When lifting heavy equipment and objects, or even working on a computer for too long, an employee can develop strains or sometimes sprains in their back. Our providers see many workers with lower back pain caused by lifting heavy objects overhead, lifting an object and turning in the wrong motion, or accidentally stepping into a hole.
Since it is difficult to determine how severe a back injury is, medical providers complete a thorough physical exam of the worker, listening to where the central area of back pain is. If the injury is severe, the worker may experience weakness in their legs, or have problems holding their urine. In these cases, medical providers recommend more serious treatment.
However, in most cases, back pain is easily treatable with patience and time. By providing Tylenol and recommending heat placed on the area of back pain for 30 minutes three to four times a day, soaking in a bath to loosen the back muscles, and stretching, back pain can often heal within a few days to a week. It is not recommended to lay down after a back injury since the muscles will freeze up and cause worse muscle spasms.
“We encourage there to be reasonable expectations for time of healing for back injuries because they take time to follow the treatment well. There is not a pill that will make the back pain better overnight,” said Misiaszek.
If the back pain does not get better with these treatments, medical providers will refer the patient for an MRI. With this treatment, and if the MRI does not show a serious injury, the back injury is not treated as a recordable.
Our providers recommend to maintain your core when lifting heavy objects and to never lift an object you are not comfortable lifting to avoid a back injury.
Remote Medical International helps clients manage and improve the health and well-being of their global workforce. Through pre-employment screenings, on-site medical staff, and case management, we improve the quality of on-site medical care while reducing costs, contact us today.